Clayton Kershaw. Chris Sale. Sonny Gray. Danny Salazar. Those are some of the names that Aaron Nola is keeping company with these days.
Since the All-Star break, Nola has been one of the most dominant pitchers in all of baseball. Heading into last night’s matchup against the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, Nola started three games post-break, going 2-0 with 26 strikeouts and a 1.11 ERA.
But let’s take it back a little farther than the All-Star break. Nola struggled to start the season. He made three starts in April before heading to the disabled list with a lower back strain. That got fans thinking, “Here we go again.” Nola missed most of the second half of last season with an elbow issue.
When he came back at the end of May, Nola made three starts, each more disastrous than the last. He finished the first two months of the season with an abysmal 5.06 ERA and only 29 strikeouts.
Then in June, something changed. In the ten games he started before his performance against the Angels, Nola turned in eight quality starts, with six wins and 78 strikeouts.
And these haven’t been cheap performances against bad teams either. He’s gone up against the St. Louis Cardinals, the Pittsburgh Pirates, the surprising Milwaukee Brewers, and the best team in the American League, the Houston Astros. Oh, and Nola struck out 10 Astros, a team that happens to have the best batting average in baseball.
Last night against the Halos, Nola allowed 8 hits and two runs in 6 innings while striking out 3, another quality start.
For the season, Nola now has an 8-6 record, a 3.16 ERA and a 1.19 WHIP. He also has 110 strikeouts while holding opposing hitters to a .236 average.
All of this points to a pitcher who is ready to become the ace of the staff, for now and for the future. And that’s something this team desperately needs.
Selected in the first round of the 2014 draft, Nola quickly climbed the ranks of the Phillies organization. He made his debut in July of 2015 and hasn’t looked back.
He reminds me a lot of Cole Hamels. Hamels was also a first round selection, and when he first made his debut in 2006, the Phillies were a struggling club trying to build something to get them in the postseason for the first time since 1993. And while Hamels had some struggles, and some injury issues, he blossomed into an ace and one of the top pitchers in baseball, with a ton of confidence.
With the groove that Nola is in right now, I get the same vibe from him. He has so much confidence in his stuff, and really seems to believe that he is the ace and deserves that title. It’s going to be exciting to watch Nola continue to grow and improve.
As a team in rebuild mode, the Phillies need some of their young guys to begin to pan out. Historically, the Phillies have been slow to call their prospects up to The Show. And when they do, they tend to play games with them – not giving them regular at bats, sending them up and down through the organization.
It’s refreshing to see them taking a different approach with their current group of young players. And in the case of Aaron Nola, it’s clearly been working the past few seasons. Any time your name is mentioned with Kershaw and Sale, you know you’re doing something right.
Nola’s coming out party is a great thing for Phillies fans to see. The future is bright for him as he will be the anchor of this rotation for years to come.
Photo: BeGreen90 (via Flickr)